Post-Katrina Timeline of John McDonogh High School

As this issue of the New Orleans Tribune heads to press, the John McDonogh High School Steering Committee, its friends and supporters are still in the middle of a heated battle over keeping the state from naming a new charter operator for the historic Esplanade Avenue home.

Below, Elizabeth K. Jeffers has compiled a timeline reflecting the post-Katrina saga of John McDOnogh High School.

John McDonogh Steering Committee and supporters at BESE meeting. From left to right: Brenda Square, Elizabeth Jeffers, Dyan French Cole, Attorney Willie Zanders, Attorney Shawon Bernard, Ann Marie Covielo and Kwame Smith.
John McDonogh Steering Committee and supporters at BESE meeting. From left to right: Brenda Square, Elizabeth Jeffers, Dyan French Cole, Attorney Willie Zanders, Attorney Shawon Bernard, Ann Marie Covielo and Kwame Smith.

Nov. 30, 2005

The State of Louisiana seizes control over John McDonogh Sr. High School and 107 New Orleans Public Schools in legislation known at Act 35.

Spring – Summer 2006

John McDonogh community members and former faculty members meet across the street from John McDonogh at the Musician’s Union Hall to press for the re-opening of John McDonogh as a public school.

Sept. 2006

John McDonogh re-opens under the RSD.

Oct. – Nov. 2006

The Downtown Neighborhood Improvement Association’s (DNIA) Education Committee, including many of the John McDonogh Sr. High School Steering Committee (JMSHSSC) members, and the Fyre Youth Squad hold rallies on the front steps of John McDonogh and outside of Cohen High School.

Jan. 2007

DNIA Education Committee, including many of the JMSHSSC members, and the Fyre Youth Squad lead the “Take It to the Top” rally at the BESE meeting in Baton Rouge. Students from at least five high schools in New Orleans attend the rally, including at least fifty students from John McDonogh. The Fyre Youth Squad’s demands included:

a two-year moratorium on the LEAP/GEE testing; reduction in the number of security guards and the hiring more counselors, social workers and psychologists;

a 15-to-1 student-teacher ratio; and compliance with laws protecting students with special needs.

Oct. 2007

Jim Blew of the Walton Family Foundation visits John McDonogh.

May 2009

90 percent of John McDonogh’s senior class graduates.

Oct. 2009

US Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan visits John McDonogh.

July 2010

A DNIA member submits a letter of intent to charter John McDonogh.

A contingent of DNIA brings the CEO of Collegiate Academies to present to John McDonogh community members.

According to Louisiana Transparency and Accountability (LaTrac), DNIA has a $25,000 contract with the Louisiana Dept. of Education and the RSD to “increase the level of community involvement in school improvement activities for John McDonogh High School during the year and summer program.”

Aug. 2010

RSD removes the Advanced Placement program from John McDonogh.

Aug. 2011

RSD allows ReNew to move into the 1st floor of John McDonogh against the wishes of the alumni and neighbors.

Aug. 29, 2011

Alumni and community members hold “New Orleans Public School Reform: Broken Promises” rally on the front steps of John McDonogh.

Nov. 2011

RSD Superintendent John White gave John McDonogh’s new principal a six-week timeline to create a school plan, but before the John McDonogh Planning Committee had the time to submit its plan, they learned that the decision had already been made, and that the school would be operated by the California charter management operator, Future Is Now Schools.

Fake Community Engagement protest outside of John McDonogh.

March 2012

Superintendent John White holds a press conference in John McDonogh’s gymnasium pledging $35 million dollars in FEMA funds for the renovation of John McDonogh if and only if John McDonogh is turned over to a charter operator.

March 2012

John McDonogh Student Government Association holds “Students have Voices” rally on the front steps to protest the firing of their local and mostly black teachers and the FINS takeover.

Aug. 2012

FINS takes over John McDonogh.

Feb. 2013

OWN releases “Blackboard Wars.”

May 2014

FINS brings the School Performance Score to a 9.3 out of 150 and then leaves New Orleans.

“So the toxins were floating in the air–white mold, black mold, mold infestation. The rats was just unbelievable…I contacted John White. I met with him. I met with Paul Vallas. I met with the health department, the state on the federal level, you name it to get them to close this building or get these children out of this building. They knew it was bad. They knew it was bad. I wrote a letter to the President, and I told him that I wanted somebody from his jurisdiction to come down here to investigate the money. The money was there, but they didn’t want to do anything with the money, and our children were suffering under these conditions, thank you.”

–Angelina Elder (2014), parent during the FINS takeover and alumna of John McDonogh

May 2014

Former students, parents, alumni, educators and neighbors and pastors from the John McDonogh community reconvene.

June 2014

JMSHSSC holds a Town Hall at Community Book Center and develops a mission and vision:

“The John McDonogh Sr. High School Steering Committee (JMSHSSC) is a post-Katrina, non-profit, public education advocacy organization founded by former students, parents, employees, alumni, friends and public school supporters. The Committee seeks the immediate transfer of John McDonogh High School and $40 million in FEMA construction funds from Louisiana’s Board of Elementary & Secondary Education and its Recovery School District to the Orleans Parish School Board. More specifically, the Steering Committee envisions John McDonogh Sr. High School as a “direct-run”, college preparatory and career-readiness high school under the legal authority and control of the Orleans Parish School Board. With the strategic use of local/state/federal funds and business partnerships, John McDonogh Sr. High School may also serve as a 21st Century Community Learning Center.”

The JMSHSSC is created with a 19-member board and a working subcommittee.

JMSHSSC and supporters attend the BESE Admin. & Finance Committee meeting in Baton Rouge to press for the immediate return of John McDonogh to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).

BESE President Chas Roemer tells BESE board member, Carolyn Hill, that she is out of order for making a motion for the immediate return of John McDonogh
JMSHSSC drafts formal proposal requesting return of school

OPSB passes Resolution 18-14 for the “return control of and to restore all rights and responsibilities of ownership in the John McDonogh High School facility to the OPSB in order to expand its capacity to provide high-quality education options for Orleans Parish students.”

July 2014 petition for the immediate return of John McDonogh and the FEMA funds reaches close to 700 signatures

July 31st, 2014

BESE’s Committee of the Whole (RSD matters only) meeting at Lake Area High School in New Orleans

BESE board member, James Garvey of Metairie, stated that he had been told it wasn’t in BESE’s power to transfer the school back, and so he asked to wait on a legal opinion.

Aug. 2, 2014

Attorney Willie Zanders wrote a response to Garvey’s statement stating the Louisiana Constitution of 1974—Article VIII Section 3 (A) specifies that BESE is created as a “corporate body” whose function is to “supervise and control the public elementary and secondary schools and special schools under its jurisdiction,” and it “shall have the power to supervise, manage, and operate or provide for the supervision, management, and operation of a public elementary or secondary school which has been determined to be failing.”

Aug. 12, 2014

BESE board member, Carolyn Hill, places John McDonogh on BESE’s Administration and Finance Committee meeting agenda as Item 6.4. JMSHSSC and John McDonogh supporters return to BESE in Baton Rouge.

“I requested the item to be placed on the agenda via community concerns and responses regarding to John McDonogh…And here is an opportunity where the community wants the school to return to OPSB. OPSB is the third parish in the state of Louisiana. They are doing tremendously well academically… There are still a lot of schools that they’re continuing trying to rebuild, renovate or refurbish, and here is an opportunity to lighten their load and allow the return to OPSB, and to give the community a sense of letting their voices be heard.” — BESE board member Carolyn Hill

“I was a student at ‘John Mac,’ and I remember sitting in this exact same spot seven years ago asking for the exact same thing, asking that our school be ran by the Orleans Parish School [Board]… We had made plans. We had several meetings with you. We had protests. We did everything in our power to [make] our schools better and because of it, we got pushed out… Recovery School District did not allow my mother to come in to see what was going on. While I was getting sicker and sicker every day from being in a school that was not, that had horrible conditions in it. We had nothing that we needed, and now seven years later, I am still asking for my school to be returned back over to me, to my community, to my family. I should not have to sit up here and beg for something that belongs to me to be returned back to me… And you are going to have more generations coming here, but by tomorrow, I would like to be able to transfer my son back to a school that is owned by us that I know I can go and check on him. I know I can go and make sure he’s doing his work right. I can work with the teachers. I can call the teachers. I want the culture back. I want to be able to know that there is a generation coming up behind me that has the best education, and it is not failing.”

– Brianna O’Neal, Fyre Youth Squad member and student at John McDonogh when it reopened under the RSD in the 2006 – 2007 school year

“I decided to put my two kids at John McDonogh for the last two years. Utter failure! And, Mr. White, I believe you owe that to me, if nobody else, because I worked with you. You said you wanted FINS. I said: ‘Okay, we can work with the charter group.’ They failed us. They did absolutely nothing but made money. And I worked with you personally. You didn’t say it was going to be a process; we’re going to see. We wanted to go to Orleans Parish School Board then, but I said: ‘Okay, we’re going to go charter.’ We didn’t really have an option at that time. Now, we do… We have two years to decide what we are going to do… We already know that Dana Peterson [former board member of FirstLine Schools and Future Is Now Schools and RSD’s current Deputy Superintendent of External Affairs] is working with the Clark alumni to bring FirstLine into John McDonogh. We already know that the decision is already being made– what they want John McDonogh to be… So I say: Give us the opportunity to go back to Orleans Parish to be successful because we have been failed [by the RSD] for nine years.”

– Kenneth Gill, Sr., President of John McDonogh Sr. High School Alumni Association, JMSHSSC member

Aug. 13, 2014

At BESE board meeting, Dr. Lottie Beebe offers a motion for the board to request the Attorney General’s interpretation of the legislation concerning BESE’s role in the return of schools. State Superintendent John White suggested an amended motion to seek an Attorney General opinion and appropriate jurisprudence of the board. BESE makes a resolution requesting that the President of BESE, Chas Roemer, request an opinion from the Attorney General and report back to the board on his response in October.

BESE board member Carolyn Hill makes the motion for the immediate return of John McDonogh to the OPSB. 4 out of the 10 present BESE board members affirmed Hill’s motion: Hill, Beebe, Jane Smith and Walter Lee. BESE board members who voted “Nay:” Kira Orange-Jones, James Garvey, Chas Roemer and Holly Boffy, Connie Bradford and Dr. Judith Miranti.

Kira Orange-Jones, the elected BESE board representative of the neighborhood comprised of John McDonogh, makes alternate motion, seconded by Dr. Judith Miranti, the director of the Division of Education and Counseling at Xavier University. The motion stated that the Board request the RSD Superintendent: meet with the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) superintendent to analyze revenue, cost, student demographic projections, and facility and capacity needs of existing school programs in Orleans Parish to inform the RSD’s decision related to the use and control of the John McDonogh High School facility; pursue a process led by the OPSB officials to engage with Orleans Parish community members and the John McDonogh High School Steering Committee regarding the future use and control of the John McDonogh High School facility; and provide an update to the Board on this matter at the October 2014 Administration and Finance Committee meeting.
BESE passed the motion.

Aug. 25, 2014

JMSHSSC emails Nolan Marshall, Jr. and all OPSB board members. The email contains Kira Orange-Jones’ motion, and it makes a formal request to establish an OPSB-led working group to develop an operational plan for the requested return of John McDonogh. Marshall did not respond.

Aug. 29, 2014

JMSHSSC holds Bring Back “John Mac” Hurricane Katrina 9th Anniversary Rally and Candlelight vigil.

“We would like for our leadership to take control of our schools not to object, not to turn over their responsibility. John Mac deserves your attention…We must prevail in this. Otherwise, we will slip into history. There will be no more locally-run public schools in New Orleans because all of them will them be chartered. It is time to move back toward more local control, not less.”

– Kwame Smith, Bring Back “John Mac” Hurricane Katrina 9th Anniversary Rally

Sept. 2014

JMSHSSC emails Kira Orange-Jones to ask her availability to meet. Orange-Jones did not respond.

Sept. 2014

OPSB member notifies JMSHSSC that they will be on the next full board agenda.

Sept. 16, 2014

OPSB full board meeting – Establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee for John McDonogh is listed as an Action Item on the agenda.

“That the Orleans Parish School Board approve the appointment of an ad hoc committee to coordinate community activities for the future use of the John McDonogh facility. The committee will include one member from the John McDonogh Steering Committee, school board member Nolan Marshall, and Kira Orange Jones from BESE. In addition, the ad hoc committee will reach out to organizations such as the Downtown Neighborhood Improvement Association, Esplanade Ridge, Micah Group, Urban League of Greater New Orleans, Orleans, Public Education Network (OPEN), Stand for Children and the Business Council of New Orleans.”

The resolution was an ad hoc committee was formed with “3 steering committee members, 3 OPSB members, a RSD representative and Kira Orange-Jones.”

Sept. – Oct. 2014

Orange-Jones is absent from all ad hoc committee meetings and forums.

Oct. 8, 2014

OPSB, RSD, the Ad Hoc Committee for John McDonogh & JMSHSSC hold community engagement forum.

Bright Moments facilitates John McDonogh’s Ad Hoc community engagement meetings.

Oct. 11, 2014

OPSB, RSD, the Ad Hoc Committee and the JMSHSSC hold community meeting.

Oct. 13, 2014

BESE Admin. & Finance meeting in Baton Rouge. JMSHSSC members and supporters speak in support of John McDonogh.

Chas Roemer neglects to request an Attorney General’s opinion.

Oct. 14, 2014

JMSHSSC returns to BESE’s full board meeting, along with the Ad Hoc committee, including 3 OPSB members and the OPSB interim superintendent, Stan Smith.

John McDonogh ad hoc committee submits the Community Engagement Report to BESE.
BESE board member, Carolyn Hill, makes the motion for the immediate return of John McDonogh. President of BESE, Chas Roemer, tells Hill that her motion is inappropriate.

Nov. 22, 2014

BESE Committee of the Whole meeting at Walker-Landry High School.

Dr. Judith Miranti offers a motion to request that the Superintendent of the RSD make a RFA for charters to apply for John McDonogh’s facility.

Dec. 16, 2014

JMSHSSC formerly submitted our strategic academic plan to the OPSB. The JMSHSSC’s plan is developed from the plan OPSB already has as well as our mission for a college and career preparatory high school directly operated by the OPSB.

Jan. 2015

6 charters apply for John McDonogh’s facility: Bricolage Academy, Encore Academy, FirstLine Schools, KIPP New Orleans, the Linda School and Morris Jeff Community School.

Jan. 8, 2015

The Attorney General’s opinion is released stating:

“Based on the foregoing statutes, it is the opinion of this office that the RSD has the legal authority to determine the current and proposed use and control of the John McDonogh High School facility in New Orleans and retains such control unless and until BESE votes to remove such use and control pursuant to La. RS. 17:10.7 (C).”

Jan. 9, 2015

JMSHSSC member and former administrator of John McDonogh, Attorney Shawon Bernard, along with Attorney Willie Zanders, file a legal injunction in response to BESE’s violation of Louisiana’s Open Meetings laws at the committee meeting at Walker-Landry High School.

Jan. 13, 2015

JMSHSSC members travel to the BESE Administration and Finance meeting in Baton Rouge to respond to the Attorney General’s opinion.

BESE member, Dr. Lottie Beebe, states:

“The New Orleans community did their due diligence. They had community meetings, and they prepared a proposal. And then they were sucker-punched at a Committee of the Whole Meeting when they didn’t even realize that this item would be added to the agenda, and I don’t even know if it was added to the agenda because we were just supposed to receive a report. But someone on the Committee made the motion, and it was approved to go out and receive a request for proposals.”

Feb. 13, 2015

The Friday before Mardi Gras at 9pm, BESE releases the agenda for the February 25th Committee of the Whole meeting stating: “the RSD is empowered to define the current and proposed use and control of the school facilities that it governs.” The agenda announces that BESE will make the names of the selected charter applicator for John McDonogh by February 23rd. There is no mention of what entities have been on the selection committee.

Feb. 23, 2015

The Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans issued a Temporary Restraining Order preventing state education officials, their agents, and anyone acting on their behalf, including Mr. Patrick Dobard, Mr. John White, and Mr. Charles Roemer, from appointing or contracting with a new charter school operator for John McDonogh Sr. High School.

March 20, 2015

The date that the Civil District Court of New Orleans has scheduled for a preliminary injunction hearing.

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